We’re in another lockdown. We’re all completely exhausted and can feel time slipping through our fingers. In a world that has shut down, how do you keep on moving?
At first, it was an odd nightmarish disconnect. Everything froze for two weeks like some lucid dream. I can still feel that initial sense of weirdness from back when these measures seemed so temporary. Time had stopped.
Before March last year (only last year!), our world never stopped moving, and at the time I had this post-uni urge to experience anything and everything – it was like a rush of blood to the head. From swiping through dates to booking holidays, I was determined to ‘live my best life’ before all this.
And who can blame me when our culture drives an obsession for finding the next best thing? Our world is fuelled by technology, constant interactions and a fear of missing out (FOMO). When we see the daily experiences, products and relationships that our friends are enjoying, it is only natural that our subconscious fears it is missing out – and that’s if you’re lucky enough for FOMO to be so subtle.
Our capitalist world also drives this panic that nothing we have is ever good enough when compared to others. The relatable fury of the job search is realising everything requires an unrealistic level of experience. The rat race is something no-one can avoid. To be the best you’ve got to go out, experience new things, keep working, make sure you’re enjoying yourself, build social (and work-related) networks, climb the career ladder.. it just goes on.
It’s exhausting. But for a lot of people, it’s all we have. So when the world flipped upside down, there was a fundamental shift in lifestyle too.
Unless you felt the impact of the virus personally, it didn’t feel disastrous at first. As it went on, the dread gradually set in as what we were dealing with became clear to us. And if your life relies on anticipation for the next event, the next surprise, the next experience, a sudden halt to it all can be traumatic. Your mental state can go from overflowing with distractions to being forced to actually think, or even overthink because we now have all the time in the world to shine a light on problems that seemed minor before.
People who overthink can struggle to sleep. When the phone’s put away, you’re finally disconnected and just lying there with no distractions. For this brief time each night, you’re forced to be alone with your thoughts. In these moments, many doubt themselves. Should I have said that? Should I have done that? What have I got to look forward to? It’s fine in the morning – there are new distractions to focus on. Now it can feel like these moments of doubt are seeping into the everyday.
Everyone’s mental health has been tested one way or another recently, and for those struggling with serious conditions, I worry about how they’ve coped. For many, the distractions of life aren’t about mindless activities but can be much more valuable and sacred. Grabbing a coffee, attending religious services and going to the football can be crucial to people’s mental health in many circles.
Many older people particularly rely on that last one, and were devastated when they could no longer enter their beloved home ground. Adding to this, a recent survey found that 20% of elderly residents in a care home spoke with family or friends less than once a fortnight. Evidently, this is a community who, like many others, needed much more support for their mental health anyway, regardless of Covid.
Charities like Age UK are offering opportunities to help older people at risk of isolation and loneliness. Right now you can volunteer to talk to someone over the phone for half an hour a week. It can make an incredible difference to someone who might not have spoken to anyone in weeks.
As for those of us desperate for distractions, it helps to realise that they’re not everything, It can be pretty damaging. An urge to constantly occupy yourself and to just keep busy no matter what can be as unhealthy as isolation and loneliness.
For hectic lifestyles, lockdown was like taking away drugs from an addict. The damage stopped, but the withdrawal symptoms might have been worse. Around a third of young adults reported that they’re drinking more in lockdown, and despite the closure of pubs and bars, drinking everywhere remains pretty much the same. You can bet the same goes for for drug-use too. We all have our own ways to cope, and some are healthier than others. In truth, if you can achieve it, a rethink of priorities is rarely a bad thing.
The first lockdown was packed with social media ‘positivity’, everyone seemed to be exercising, chilling, baking banana bread etc. Now, we’ve realised that no amount of ‘insta inspo‘ and lecturing in articles like this that can change a mindset.
Blissful positivity can be tiring and although there is definitely a necessary place for it, it’s also not the worst thing in the world to admit right now, that things are shit. They will get better, but they’re not good.
For the most part, we are still to some degree privileged. Granted, it’s hard to see that after so much time living in limbo, but it’s true. We still live in a country that, however mismanaged, is a pretty good place to live. Most of us are lucky enough to have distractions in our homes that others could have only dreamed of even twenty years ago. Genuinely, where the fuck would we be without Netflix?
I tend to lean on people I trust more than myself for advice. Google’s former Chief Business Officer, Mo Gadwat put his book Solve For Happy out a few years ago. In it, Gadwat describes happiness as not as seeing a glass half-empty or half-full, but as:
Looking at the glass and seeing the truth of the glass. Seeing the half full side and being grateful for it, seeing the half empty side and saying, can I do anything about it? And if not, can I accept it?
And so I guess that’s where it starts: acceptance. The world is fucked. At the time of writing, there’s an attempted coup in America, the UK has a superspreading variant of an already super-infectious virus, and the climate crisis looms like an oncoming storm. But at the risk of sounding patronising, it’s all about perspective. As bad as our Covid response has been, we’re still extremely lucky. Calling family and friends has got us through this pandemic, and if you haven’t checked in with them in a while – whip out the Zoom, it can make all the difference.
Whatever 2020 has done to you, it’s a new year. If you’re young, despite everything being said right now, you’re still in a great place to start your life. We’re going through the worst of this pandemic, and it may not feel like it right now but the benefits of lockdown will be felt eventually. But extremely slow progress is still progress. Things will get better. You’ve got this.
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